Furr-ociously independent

Blitzen Trapper still does things its own way

Maybe Blitzen Trapper’s Eric Earley has got some furr hidden under his plaid.

Maybe Blitzen Trapper’s Eric Earley has got some furr hidden under his plaid.

Photo By Shoka

Blitzen Trapper kicks off its tour in Sacramento on Thursday, July 9, 9 p.m.; $14; 21 and over. Harlow’s, 2708 J Street; www.blitzentrapper.net.

Eric Earley just may be the reincarnated soul of James Brown, even if the timelines don’t exactly add up. Still, it’s pretty easy to look at the quiet, sometimes reclusive leader of Blitzen Trapper and see glimpses of the “hardest working man” in indie music.

Rising from the fog of the Columbia River in the city of Portland, Ore., Earley and his fellow bandmates have done everything themselves—the production, recording and releasing of the band’s first three albums. But that was until last year, when Sub Pop gave the band a chance to access a much larger audience with Furr, its latest release, which immediately was embraced by the indie community at large and also received accolades from big hitters Rolling Stone and Billboard.

The band is a six piece: Earley (guitar, vocals), Erik Menteer (guitar, keyboard), Brian Adrian Koch (drums, vocals), Michael VanPelt, (bass), Drew Laughery (keyboards) and Marty Marquis (guitar, keyboards, vocals). But at the core of all that is Blitzen Trapper is Earley, who leads the outfit in every aspect.

“I generally write most of the parts, and then we work out the [other parts] live. So the live and the recorded versions are usually a little different,” the soft-spoken Earley explained, via telephone. He feels that some of his songs, such as the simplistic “Not Your Lover,” need more instruments when performed onstage versus in studio.

After the success of its previous self-released album, Wild Mountain Nation—with the title song reaching No. 98 on Billboard’s 100 top songs of 2007—the band recorded and released Furr to even greater success. In addition to once again scoring with the title song, a fun folk tune about a young man raised by wolves, the album is loaded with rock and folk pop that crosses over multiple genres.

“Not Your Lover” is a beautiful and heartfelt song played on a beat-up old upright piano. “Gold for Bread” has lively energy and reveals Earley’s sweet serenade is for both upbeat rock jams and also solemn ballads.

“I think right now I am most proud of Furr, but maybe that’s just because it’s the most recent one,” Earley chuckled.

He recorded Furr while he was homeless. Most of the time, he slept on a couch in the studio. Like how Stanley Kubrick often operated the camera on his film shoots, Earley rarely allows others to do something that he can do himself.

On Furr, however, he did decide to let a few others play instruments in his place, which helped him spend more time focusing on the other aspects of the album. For Earley, it was a new experience.

“It’s nice to be able to [self-record], and I have been doing it for a long time. However, I like the experience of letting someone else handle it. It’s just different,” he said of handing over the reins.

The songs written by Earley on Furr are quite different than those on each of the earlier albums. It could be said that he does not look back, but only forward, in the way he pens tracks. Taught to play the banjo and guitar by his late father when he was a teenager, everything else Earley knows about music was self-taught. And the skills he has today are merely a result of years of trial-and-error learning, and even now he approaches each song as a blank page.

“Sometimes I don’t know where I get my ideas,” Earley said reluctantly. “I just sort of write them. I don’t think about it much.”

Now the band is looking to do a bit more touring and is recording an album that will come out sometime next year. On August 24, the band will release Black River Killer, an EP on Sub Pop. It’s based around the title track, one song from Furr, along with six new tracks that’ve only been available until now by way of a CDR Blitzen Trapper had been selling at live performances. The new music is telling of how the word is finally getting out about one of the best new bands of the Pacific Northwest.

And maybe it’s also a sign that Seattle is no longer the musical hub of the region?